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Is There a Right Way to Feel About Amazon?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-chief

Amazon…Amazon…Amazon…there’s so much talk in publishing circles about our “friends in Seattle” that you’d forget it was actually a river in Brazil.

Jeff Bezos: Savior, Satan, or something in-between?

The company’s very name inspires equally vitriolic doses of love/hate/angst in such a wide variety of constituencies that its impossible to keep track.

Publishers fear it, but are dependent on it. Readers adore its low prices and convenience, but hear from some circles that they should boycot the company. Writers know they need it — to sell their books. And self-publishers realize that without Amazon, the whole self-publishing phenomenon might never have taken off in the first place.

Personally, I’m of two minds. I spend an inordinate amount of my disposable income with Amazon (then again, I spend an inordinate amount of my disposable income at physical bookstores as well). I am serving as a judge for The Best Translated Book Awards, which is financially supported by Amazon. I am an avid user of Prime Instant Video. I’m on my second Kindle. I have a dozen friends, colleagues and who have worked for Amazon, gotten rich off of them, or have recently been “acquired” by then.

Yet, as a journalist I hear dark whispers about the nefarious tactics the company has used to gain a foothold in the European market — so nefarious, it seems, that I can’t get anyone to go on the record about it out of fear Amazon will punish them for speaking out. And what is the motivation behind the company’s acquisition of so many overseas titles? I want to cheer, but part of me can’t help thinking cynically that it might also be marketing effort to entice Icelanders to order their refrigerators from a warehouse somewhere in the Midwest USA.

So, tell me, is there a right way to feel about Amazon? All I know right now is that Jeff Bezos is spending $42 million to install a 10,000 year clock out in the empty wastelands of West Texas. It’s safe to say: Bezos is playing the long game.

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  1. Sulaiman Adebowale
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    ‘Is there a right way to feel about Amazon?’.

    Yes, the paycheck. As a publisher, I feel good when I receive sales from Amazon. I feel bad when Amazon starts publishing for authors. I feel bad when any bookseller, distributor, or chain also publish books. The field is no more level. I have never feel threatened by self-publishing. I feel so strongly about what I add to a book and do for an author that I don’t have any qualms if authors decide to self-publish. Some have tried and run back!

    On the other hand, bookseller-publishers have not just changed the rules of the game to only suit them, they also keep moving the goal posts every time. With the power that Amazon has to push its tons of ridiculously published books upfront to readers, keeping better quality material aside, except if you are part of another ridiculously expensive marketing gimmick, such a tactic is unfair. This is not just Amazon, even local booksellers are now into publishing. On one level, it is great to see book lovers creating more books. On another level, blocking titles of other publishers from the local shelf space is just unfair, and should not be promoted.

  2. Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Blame borders, B&N, ever-demanding consumers, and the antiquated business model of retail book stores. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are all both loved and reviled. Consumers have spoken: they want information, books, CDs, etc. on demand. Going to a physical store to hopefully find what they want is so 1990s.

    At least you can’t besmirch Amazon for being short-term oriented, as you point out.

    Phil Simon

  3. Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    The feeling of estrangement, Edward, is due to the fact that this market is changing and very fast. Amazon is very important for the renewal. The potentiality of the publishers will be expanded, because the editors, cornered, out of their comfort zone, they will seek alternatives. The market is discontinuing its stagnation. Moreover, this is a technology market (from now on). Publishers should publish books, but also can think of publishing other (digital) products and services that they had not imagined publish until now. Finally, all these movements are good for readers, for publishers, for retailers. But only for those who are able to implement innovation in the initiatives, of course. Best regards.

  4. Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I have been a great admirer of Amazon and actually wrote a case study on them in 1998 for a Financial Times Management Report I authored on supply chain challenges of e-tailing as they were starting out but I think they are now beginning to abuse their very dominant market position in many areas – and I don’t say that just because I have founded Books4Spain – I knew they were there but probably didn’t realise quite how powerful they have/would become over the last 2 years.

    I am all for competition and Amazon do provide consumers with a great, if soulless, experience (see my post Are Amazon a ruthless money making machine in response to some comments by James Daunt of Waterstones in December) BUT since launching Books4Spain in late November, three of our independent reviewers have received targeted emails from Amazon offering them very specific books about Spain – in fact 2 of them were offered books they had reviewed or were about to review (one of which had not even been released) as well as some other books related to their areas of expertise.

    All 3 have accounts with Amazon BUT 2 of them have not bought books for months/years and have not signed up for any email newsletter offers. Both assure me that they have not searched Amazon for any of the titles (or similar) that they have received special offers for. None of them have their email addresses on our site and only one has his real name.

    So the question is – how can Amazon be so smart to specifically target these people with offers for books which they have reviewed and/or are about to review and other books which are closely related to reviews they have done when two of them have not used Amazon to either search for, or buy, books related to Spain?? Granted they live in Spain and their account will reflect that but its a big jump from not using the service for months and not being signed up for email notifications to receiving targeted emails. The 3rd one lives in UK and does use Amazon but NOT for books about Spain.

    Are Amazon being very clever and using cookies to monitor peoples browsing behaviour OFF the Amazon website and then using that information? The EU has recently passed laws governing use of cookies, e.g. type allowed without permission, types that require permissions etc. and I suspect Amazon may be using “old” and deep cookies to track peoples non-Amazon browsing behaviour and then use that information to target them. If that is the case then this is a total invasion of privacy and I think Amazon (probably by law now in the EU at least) has to ask users to opt in to the use of such cookies.

    It very much smacks of 1984 and Big Brother and I´d like to know if anyone else has had the same experience or if they know how Amazon carries out this very targeted type of campaign?

  5. Posted April 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure Amazon behaves any differently from any other big corporation – and certainly when seeking out reviews, they behave exactly like a big, traditional publisher. The Big Six also regularly seek out people with a reputation in the area where they want a book review – makes business sense without being necessarily an invasion of privacy…

    Is Amazon dangerous? Too big? Hard to tell. In my view, it’s a little too early to decide whether Amazon is playing a monopolistic game. That it is oligopolistic is more than likely since there are only very few big publishers around, Six to be precise and Amazon is surely the Seventh…Whether we need to worry, we’ll soon find out. But for the time being, the US Justice Department is attacking Apple for setting up the notorious “agency model” – not Amazon…

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